I’ve been catching up with Nathan Lane’s career (not sure what triggered this sudden exploration) and reading plays he’s performed in. Read “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” by Neil Simon a few nights ago and found it hilarious.
From the Samuel French site
“This Broadway hit is a homage to the author’s early days in show biz when he worked as a junior jokesmith for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows. He was stuck in a room with a bunch of the looniest comedy writers ever, who grew up to be the likes of Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart and others. The play is a memoir told by Neil Simon’s alter ego, Lucas. As the writers try to top each other with gags while competing for the attention of head madman Max Prince (the Sid Caesar character), Max contends with the NBC brass who fear his humor is too sophisticated for middle America.”
The play was eventually made into a movie (or tv movie?) with Nathan reprising his original stage role as Max. I started to think this would be a nice play to do, and then realized there was an awful lot of smoking going on. Audiences have become very sensitive to smoke in small spaces. In this play, one of the character’s trait (Brian) is his incessant smoking. His first entrance is punctuated by a fit of smoker’s cough, followed by a punch line related to it. There ‘s no way around it as an actor or director — and knowing Neil Simon’s pickiness about messing with his lines, you wouldn’t want to. Max is also known for his love of smoking cigars. Herbal cigarettes just would not do or fit this character.
With smoking bans in public places, restaurants and, more recently, restaurant patios, how can we still stage such classic plays, while respecting both the playwright’s scenario and a modern audience’s sensitivity?